These are trying times for Luke Donald, the Englishman who starred on Northwestern’s teams before eventually enjoying a long run as the world’s No. 1 golfer.
Now 44, Donald’s best days as a player are probably over but he is still a force in the game both in the Chicago area and world-wide. Though now a Florida resident, his presence in Chicago is still felt through his extraordinary support of the Northwestern and First Tee programs.
More recently he was in the spotlight for something he didn’t do; he was expected to be named the European Ryder Cup captain for the 2023 matches in Italy, but he wasn’t.
Donald had all the credentials for the job. He made four appearances as a player for Europe and never was on a losing team. He also served twice as Europe’s vice captain and seemed a shoo-in after Padraig Harrington, Europe’s captain in last year’s matches at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, gave him a resounding endorsement.
“Luke would be great,’’ Harrington told The Daily Mail, a London newspaper. “Behind the sceneshe does a terrific job. His managements style, he’s got the experience. I’d thoroughly recommend him.’’
So did Graeme McDowell, who served with Donald as Harrington’s vice captains in Wisconsin.
Donald was “very humbled’’ when he heard that and gave a 30-minute presentation to the European Ryder Cup selection committee. It included the captains of the last three European teams – Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Harrington; Keith Pelley, chief executive officer of the DP World Tour, and David Howell, chairman of the European Tour players committee.
Actually Donald would not have been the first choice. Lee Westwood appeared the front-runner until he took himself out of consideration. Still, the five-man committee – perhaps stung by Europe’s 19-9 whomping at Whistling Straits – went for Sweden’s Henrik Stenson as captain instead.
Donald was confronted about that selection at last week’s Valspar Championship.
“I thought I had a good chance this year,’’ he told GolfWeek. “Hopefully, that’s not my chance gone.’’
It could be, though.
Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter – as well as Westwood and McDowell – have been keys to Europe’s previous domination of past Ryder Cups. They’re still playing, but will be captain’s candidates not far down the road. Garcia, given his past battles with New York’s boisterous fans, would especially seem an attractive choice when the matches are played at New York’s Bethpage Black in 2025. That would be Donald’s next chance to be a Ryder Cup captain.
While his Ryder Cup future may be in limbo, his playing days might be on the upswing.
Still dealing with back problems, Donald had dropped to No. 547 in the Official World Golf Rankings prior to last week’s Valspar Championship in Florida. Donald won that tournament in 2012 when it was called the Transitions Championship, and it came at a crucial time in his playing career. It restored his position as golf’s No. 1 at that time. Donald spent 56 weeks as world No. 1 in 2011 and 2012.
Last week he finished in a tie for 16th in the Valspar Championship – his best showing in the PGA’s 2021-22 wrap-around season that has included six missed cuts in 10 starts. In a pro career that began in 2002 Donald has earned $37 million with five PGA Tour wins and eight more on the European circuit. He was the leading money-winner on both tours in 2011.
His nezt start figures to be the RBC Heritage Classic in South Carolina April 14-17 – the week after the Masters. Donald has four runner-up finishes and two thirds in the Heritage.